In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Childhood in Japan

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Childhood in Japan from Ancient Times to 1600
  • Childhood in Japan during the Meiji Period (1868–1912)
  • Childhood in Japan from the Taishō Period (1912–1926) through World War II

Childhood Studies Childhood in Japan
Kristin Williams
  • LAST REVIEWED: 26 February 2020
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 February 2020
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791231-0229


This bibliography will introduce major sources on Japanese childhood studies, with an emphasis on sources in English. For the purposes of the current project, childhood will primarily mean the stage of life from birth to adolescence but will also depend on historical and cultural treatments of people as mature or immature, dependent or independent within Japanese society. This bibliography generally omits contemporary pediatric medical studies, studies of language acquisition in childhood, and studies of the impact of motherhood on women’s careers. However, it is worth noting that much research has been done in those areas for postwar and contemporary Japan and may be found across the major journals and citation databases for the sciences and social sciences. Historical treatments of related topics have been included in some cases because there is less research available on childhood and its place within Japanese society in earlier eras. Translations of primary sources for childhood in historical eras have been included where they are substantial, closely related to childhood, and accompanied by commentary and analysis. For the Meiji period and later, there are so many first-hand observations and memoirs that these could not be included. Secondary sources for these eras include some overviews of their primary sources, which may be helpful. Studies of childhood in China before the modern era may be relevant to traditional ideas about childhood in Japan and to early educational texts for Japanese children. For such topics, see the separate Oxford Bibliographies article Children’s Culture and Social Studies.

General Overviews

There are as yet no comprehensive and general English-language monographs on the history of childhood in Japan. However, the following resources offer a starting point. Doi 2014 was for many years a touchstone for studies of Japanese childhood and child development. Kojima 2003 presents a succinct history of Japanese childhood, with a focus on the latter half of the Tokugawa period. Grimes-MacLellan 2011 would be a suitable brief introduction to childhood in Japan for a reading list or syllabus, though it glosses over some details and nuance to achieve that brevity. Frühstück and Walthall 2017 provides a sample of essays on Japanese children and childhood before the modern period and offers more extensive coverage of topics in the 20th century. Kinski, et al. 2015 offers a German-language introduction to the history of childhood in Japan but also includes several chapters in English that complement Frühstück and Walthall 2017.

  • Doi, Takeo. Anatomy of Dependence. Translated by J. Bester. New York: Kodansha USA, 2014.

    (Multiple editions available. First published in Japanese as Amae no kōzō [甘えの構造] in 1971.) This book argues that amae, a childish dependence on the indulgence of people close to oneself, is a fundamental characteristic of Japanese psychology. Doi uses amae to analyze social hierarchies and relationships within Japan, Japanese relationships with foreign countries, factions in government and politics, and the arc of Japanese history.

  • Frühstück, Sabine, and Anne Walthall, eds. Child’s Play: Multi-Sensory Histories of Children and Childhood in Japan. Oakland: University of California Press, 2017.

    Child’s Play begins with a broad survey and includes one essay on medieval children. The rest of the collection covers more recent history, with wartime Japan a particular strength. There are five chapters on the 1930s to the mid-1940s, two on the 19th century, one on the 1910s-1920s, and four on the early 21st century. Both the book and the individual chapters are available as open-access electronic documents.

  • Grimes-MacLellan, Dawn. “‘Kids These Days…’: Globalization and the Shifting Discourse of Childhood in Japan.” In Japan in the Age of Globalization. Edited by Carin Holroyd and Ken Coates, 60–78. Routledge Contemporary Japan Series 36. London and New York: Routledge, 2011.

    Grimes-MacLellan first summarizes the major issues facing children and youth in a particular moment in Japanese history and society. She then provides a larger context by presenting a succinct overview of the history of childhood in Japan, mainly from the Tokugawa period through the first decade of the 21st century but also with some attention to scholarship relevant to children in the centuries prior to the Tokugawa period.

  • Kinski, Michael, Harald Salomon, and Eike Grossmann, eds. Kindheit in der japanischen Geschichte: Vorstellungen und Erfahrungen = Childhood in Japanese History: Concepts and Experiences. Wiesbaden, Germany: Harrassowitz Verlag, 2015.

    Kinski begins this bilingual collection with an extensive German-language survey of the field of Japanese childhood studies. The remaining chapters are divided by historical period: two on the Heian period, five on the Tokugawa period (including two in English), and seven on the modern and contemporary eras (including four in English). Extensive notes and bibliographies throughout the work serve to make it more useful to scholars less confident in reading German than might otherwise be the case.

  • Kojima, Hideo. “The History of Children and Youth in Japan.” In Beyond the Century of the Child: Cultural History and Developmental Psychology. Edited by Willem Koops and Michael Zuckerman, 112–135. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2003.

    This chapter provides a basic overview of history of children and youth in Japan from about 1700 to about 1870, with some notes on changes in the decades that followed this period. Kojima synthesizes his prior work on the topic of Japanese childhood and situates it in a comparative international context.

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